Obama Built a Social Network to Reach the Top: 5 Reasons Why You Should Too

“A well-connected attorney” enters Chicago politics

Entrepreneurs and politicians have something in common: A large and diverse network of contacts increases their chances of succeeding.

When Barack Obama was a graduate building up a career in Chicago in the 90s he was keenly aware of this fact. “He understands how you network,” a Chicago politician told the New Yorker* in 2008. “I remember our first few meetings. He would say, ‘Do you know So-and-So?’ And I’d say yes. ‘How well do you know him? I’d really like to meet him.’ I would set up some lunches.”

Obama understood the importance of networks and built up his own meticulously. By the time he first ran for office he had ties to so many people that mattered that the local press described him as “a well-connected attorney”. The rest is history.

The same goes for any career. Here are 5 reasons why the quality of your professional network can make or break your prospects.

1. Opportunities come from sources you least expect

“The more I practice, the luckier I get,” a golfer once replied when someone remarked on how lucky he was to hit a hole-in-one. Kathryn Minshew a Y-Combinator graduate and CEO of The Muse puts it like this: Never say no to networking. Ninety-seven times out of a hundred an encounter at a networking event brings you nowhere – but meeting three important people got her a partnership with Yahoo.

2. Your network is the best way to hire – or get hired

Fred Destin, a VC at Union Square Ventures, posted recently that an entrepreneur’s and his teams’ networks are “the most obvious but also often the most fruitful source of talent.” You shouldn’t just build up your own network – encourage your colleagues to do the same.

3. Your network can help you validate your product and raise investment

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece on the importance of the alumni networks of accelerator programs such as Y-Combinator or TechStars. Through them “entrepreneurs say they gain access to dozens or even hundreds of fellow company founders who regularly provide references to potential investors and customers, or help test and market products”. Don’t worry if you’re not an alumni – it’s only a shortcut to a destination you can reach by building up your own network.

4. Early partnerships are almost always the result of a personal recommendation or friendship

When you’re starting up and you aren’t yet an established brand, finding companies to forge partnerships with is done almost exclusively via your network.

5. Your contacts will recommend you to their own network

Inbound leads are often generated via word-of-mouth. An effective way of generating that word-of-mouth is by building up a network. If you cultivate your network by staying in touch with valuable contacts, they are more likely to remember you when someone they might send your way approaches them.

Most importantly: Keep in touch

It’s important to note that dormant contacts are not as valuable as active contacts. If someone hasn’t heard from you in a year they won’t remember to send business your way.

We feel so strongly about this that we built our own CRM app (called Five Hundred Plus) specifically to make sure the most valuable people in our networks remain strong contacts. Cultivating your contacts methodologically can bring great rewards. When someone you’ve been in touch with recently randomly meets the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, who just happens to be looking for a solution similar to the one you happen to be flogging, they’ll know where to send him: To you.

This post originally apperaed as a guest post on Under30CEO.

*The New Yorker on Obama in Chicago: Making It. How Chicago shaped Obama.

Our users and the 50,000 contacts they manage with Five Hundred Plus

Five Hundred Plus now has more than 50,000 contacts under management for its users. Five months after launch the application was already managing 10,000 contacts – five months later that number had quadrupled to 50k contacts (getting close to 60k as we write this).

Our mission is to help users remember to stay in touch with their most valuable business connections. We built Five Hundred Plus for ourselves, because the majority of our business comes from our network of professional acquaintances. We’re extremely pleased that it turns out there are more people out there in a need of a super simple CRM solution to generate leads from their professional network.

Since launching we’ve been steadily adding features (like tagging, advanced search and quick-adding interactions) and users from all over the world have been signing up (more than 100 countries to be precise). Below is a map (courtesy of that shows the location of our monthly active users:

So who are all these people? We created a tag cloud of the LinkedIn “headline” of our power users (folks who manage more than 30 connections) and the result is shown below:

Lots of business owners, sales people, marketers and consultants - all of these titles could in fact apply to ourselves!

Thanks to everyone who has tried out the app and an extra thanks to the folks who have become power users. Let us know about your ideas on how we can continue improving the product to help you close deals!

New feature: Add interaction from the home screen

At the heart of Five Hundred Plus is recording interactions with your connections. And we’ve just made it easier and quicker. You no longer have to view someone’s profile to add an interaction with them. Simply click on the speech bubble icon, type in a note and hit enter and an interaction is recorded.

The interaction will be recorded on the contacts profile, they will no longer be marked red and they’ll be sent to the bottom of their interaction column.

The buzz is building up

The buzz is building up about Five Hundred Plus. People are sharing on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and we’ve been getting more and more coverage in various different media outlets. We’re also now in the top 10 search results for the term “personal CRM”.

Among those who’ve written about us are:

Thanks for showing our app such interest. And to all our new users: Welcome!

78% of the startups competing at the London Web Summit are from outside Britain

We’re competing at the London Web Summit tomorrow with and as we were checkig out the competition we started wondering: Where do these guys come from? So we made a list.

Unsurprisingly Britain has the largest representation, with five startups competing. This is only 22% of the total which means that the London Web Summit is a very international event.

Germany is in second place with three startupsfollowed by France, Russia and Ireland with two startups each. Finally there are startups from the Czech Republic, Norway, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Israel. 

Update: We originally thought Kireego were from France but they corrected us, they’re from Switzerland. Thanks guys!

London Web Summit: Hundreds applied, 25 were selected and Five Hundred Plus is one of them!

The speakers include Autonomy’s Mike Lynch (responsible for one of Europe’s biggest tech exists in recent times), Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg, Cheezburger founder Ben Huh and Betfair CEO Breon Corcoran. The London Web Summit is one of Europe’s most highly regarded tech conferences and 25 startups (see the others here) have been selected, out of hundreds that applied, to battle it out on stage in the startup competition.

And Five Hundred Plus is one of them! Our mantra: “If you were as connected to your business network as you are to your mum, wouldn’t you be closing more deals?”

If you’ll be at the summit (or if you’re in London for the summit) drop us a line and we’d love to meet up.

Five Hundred Plus welcomes a new team member

We’re happy to announce the latest member to join our team, Rui Pedro Caramez. Pedro is based in Portugal and lives and breathes social networks - especially LinkedIn.

Over the last few years he’s focused on training and consultancy in using LinkedIn for branding, marketing, B2B and Human Resources. This, along with more than 100 articles, a sold-out book, videos and presentations about LinkedIn, makes him one of Europe’s most knowledgeable professionals when it comes to leveraging professional networks to further careers and businesses.

Only days after Pedro joined us and started spreading the word, Portugal had become our second biggest user-base after the United Kingdom (followed closely by the US).

Welcome on board Pedro!

Trevor Kaufmann, CEO of Tinypass: "I've been dreaming of an app like this for years"

Trevor Kaufmann, CEO of Tinypass (and former CEO of Schematic which was acquired by WPP), recently discovered Five Hundred Plus and commented on it on Quora:

I’ve been dreaming of an app like this for years – one that would make sure I was regularly in touch with everyone I needed to be.  All these CRM tools are organized based on sales leads, not based on managing regular outreach to the business contacts you want to keep in touch with.

Thanks Trevor! We could’t have put this better ourselves.

That’s precicly our mission statement: Make it as easy as possible to manage regular outreach to business contacts.

Launching Five Hundred Plus

“Very interesting conversation - we should stay in touch”, you say shaking hands with your new-found potential busines partner. “The next round is on me!” It’s the beginning of a beautiful business relationship.

Then what? Update your industrial strength customer relationship management (CRM) system? Login. Create lead. Add details. Create task. Due in 1 month. Click, click, click, click. 


We’ve tried every CRM app under the sun. Salesforce, Sugar CRM, Bantam Live, Highrise, Pipelinedeals, Nimble and Zoho are a few of them. Over the course of more than two years we’ve actually signed up for them and given them a proper spin. All of them. But we haven’t been able to find one we like. We kept drowning in tabs and features. All wanted do do was make sure we could capitalise on our business network to create deals. 

Sixteen weekends

But we couldn’t find a proper CRM system. We already run Iceland’s only ad-network (Augsýn), a banner analytics tool (Smelltu) and the world’s finest digital asset management app (Brand Regard) and we cater to customers in four different countries. The last thing we wanted to do was dedicate resources to a new app. But we needed a tool. So we decided it was a weekend-only pet project. We’ve been using it internally for a while and after a total of sixteen weekends, it’s now ready to meet the world.

So here it is. Our CRM app. In homage to LinkedIn we call it: Five Hundred Plus.

“The next round is on me” - preventing social link-rot

“You’re due to touch base with three contacts this week” the emal subject reads. Five Hundred Plus just reminded me I haven’t touched base with a venture capitalist friend in three months. It’s time for a beer to prevent social link-rot.

Five Hundred Plus isn’t a bells-and-whistles CRM system. We still use Zoho for our sales channel. Five Hundred Plus is a lightweight dashboard to help you manage your personal contacts and to prevent you from losing touch and most importantly: losing deals.

  • It integrates completely with LinkedIn - and only LinkedIn
  • You don’t have to create tasks
  • You can keep track of your conversations by making note of them with one click or by bcc-ing your email to the app
  • You simply drag-drop contacts into a box according to their importance and Five Hundred Plus does the rest

Help us spread the word and win a $100 voucher

Five Hundred Plus is free. So go ahead and check it out. If you help us spread the word (click the link on the bottom left in the app) you can win a $100 Amazon voucher! Five Hundred Plus is already helping us cultivating our leads and closing deals. Hopefully it can do the same for you.